NACD’s thought-leadership forum, Master Class, convened in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, late last year to discuss how corporate governance is adapting to the current operating environment. Dialogue among directors and session leaders at the event revealed 10 insightful takeaways:
Board engagement in strategy development is a sign of healthy board-management engagement. The board’s role is to question the CEO’s strategy assumptions, offer alternatives, and ensure a long-term value creation. Senior management’s job is to execute the strategy.
Given the complexity of today’s operating environment, it is even more important to stay attuned to disruptive competition in the company’s industry. Spend time outside of board meetings learning which changes—in technology, policy, or through stakeholder demands, for example—are emerging and how your company should address those disruptions.
Demonstrate directors’ commitment to continued education in communications with shareholders, employees, and other stakeholders. While your board may feel that current director evaluations and education requirements are sufficient, review your director education program to ensure that board members’ skills are being enhanced to keep pace with the changing operating environment.
Consider taking a few steps to enhance recruitment of and onboarding for new directors:
Consider not only the board’s recruitment needs in the next year, but also in the next several years as directors leave the board and as company strategy evolves.
Establish a requirement that the director pipeline includes candidates from diverse backgrounds.
Tailor new-director onboarding programs to individual directors.
Convey a sense of your board’s dynamics with each other and with management to both prospective and new directors.
Determine whether the skillset matrix tests for skills that are necessary for the company strategy. While directors currently serving on the board may have had the skills to help the company achieve its prior strategy, realize that the directors sitting on the board today should be measured against the new ruler of current and future strategy expectations.
Review your board’s bylaws and committee charters to determine whether the documents offer any detail about how directors oversee cultural risk. Probe management about culture. Given recent corporate scandals relating to unhealthy corporate culture, consider adding language to your bylaws and charters to demonstrate a commitment to healthy company culture. Take this commitment a step forward by probing management about how the company currently cultivates a healthy, ethical culture.
Look beyond the information management has presented you to determine the company’s cultural dynamics among not only senior management, but also lower- and mid-level managers. Review online employee satisfaction websites to gauge morale and determine whether behaviors incentivized are realistic and healthy.
Question the quality and volume of information being given to the board on enterprise risks. If the board is receiving 1,000 pages of information monthly about risks, ask whether the board can realistically absorb that information. Ask the chief risk officer to provide the board with a more brief and concentrated view of the risks that need to be addressed, and spend time drilling down on the most pertinent risks, including those that may be sleeping giants.
When stumped on strategy, go back to the beginning. Ask often why the company was founded and what problem the company should help clients or consumers solve. Having a renewed vision of the founder’s mission can help provide fodder as to how to revive that vision in light of today’s operating environment.
Dive deep into consumer trends and behaviors, when considering appropriate strategies. While it may be easy to become mired in the highly technical nature of directorship and oversight, realize that great insight can come from aligning company strategy so that it satisfies customers’ needs and wants.
At the National Association of Corporate Directors’ (NACD’s) Master Class program in Philadelphia June 3-4, nearly 50 experienced directors engaged with corporate leaders on the key elements that will shape the boardroom in the coming decade.
NACD’s Master Class takes place over two days and comprises eight modules presented as panels, keynote speeches, and intensive breakout sessions. Modules are highly interactive and are led by veteran directors, leading business executives, and corporate governance experts. Each Master Class is organized around a specific theme.
In Philadelphia, discussions centered on ensuring effective boardroom dynamics and strengthening the board’s role in strategic planning, cybersecurity, and mitigating global risks. Below are five takeaways that emerged in Philadelphia.
Search out the enemies of effectiveness. Vague expectations, absence of process, inadequate delegation of authority, and individual sabotage can individually or collectively compromise board effectiveness. Independent chairs and lead directors should be attentive to poor board dynamics, which often have root causes that can easily be addressed. Boards can also help counter dysfunction by establishing a foundation of shared principles that will guide the board’s decision-making, agenda-setting, discussion management, and self-assessment.
Analyze the causes of gradual deterioration in performance. Management often rationalizes small performance drops by pointing to macro-economic trends or solvable business execution problems. Boards should consider adopting a forward-looking posture in order to understand the long-term impact of disruptors on business performance. They can do this by engaging with management in frequent discussions about the assumptions that undergird the company’s strategy and the “what-if” events that could invalidate those assumptions.
Think like an activist shareholder. Activists usually know the industry and sometimes even the company better than the board does. To avoid being ambushed by well-informed activists, boards should learn from the consultants and investment banks that serve their company, industry, customers, and competitors. They must also challenge management’s conventional wisdom about the firm’s current performance and future direction.
Clearly delineate the roles of the board and management in developing and executing strategy. Boards can offer more value by engaging “early and often” in the strategy development process, by pressure-testing management assumptions, and by selecting the appropriate metrics to assess strategy success or failure. When seeking a more active role, boards must collaborate with management on defining the boundary between directing strategy and managing it. Addressing this tension over where the lines should be drawn is a critical challenge that will demand ongoing attention from the CEO and the lead director.
Anticipate the consequences of global disruptors. In a hyper-connected global marketplace, economic and political shifts in distant corners of the world can instantaneously impact company performance through supply-chain disruptions, foreign-exchange volatility, and regulatory activism. Boards can increase their understanding of emerging cross-border interdependencies and evaluate whether management is sufficiently agile to respond when conditions change.
For corporate directors, time is a valuable resource. As such, I’m frequently asked why directors should carve out three days to attend NACD’s annual Board Leadership Conference, which is held every October in the nation’s capital. To me, it is obvious why those in the boardroom should attend this first-rate conference.
Here are the 10 reasons I shared with our NACD chapter leaders at a recent meeting in St. Louis, Missouri:
Save $500 when registering by April 30. The NACD Board Leadership Conference is historically sold out, and this three-day conference represents the most important knowledge exchange for the world’s leading directors, C-suite executives, and governance experts.
For directors by directors. Learn from leading boardroom practitioners, those who have endured many hard lessons you may not want to encounter yourself! Hear firsthand from Laban Jackson, audit committee chair of JPMorgan Chase, about the London Whale controversy and his perspective on the board’s role in risk oversight. Learn more about the shifting landscape of social media from Clara Shih, Starbucks director and CEO of Hearsay. Get the latest on how big data is impacting business with Rich Relevance CEO David Sellinger.
Get more actionable takeaways than from any other conference.Address persistent challenges and gain “next practices” from your peers on the timeliest and most critical boardroom issues, including human capital management, emerging technology, compensation, and global markets.
Make your voice heard.Take part in shaping thought leadership and talk to influential legislators, regulators, and stakeholders.
Sharpen your committee skills. Attend a Sunday Board Committee Forum, including dedicated sessions on audit, compensation, nominating/governance, and risk. Network with peers during breaks following big-name keynote speakers, and share your opinion with peer-led panels and committee chairs who really understand your challenges.
Get hands-on with social media. Visit our first ever social media learning lab, staffed by experts in the latest social media trends, who can show you the ropes and help you understand how social medial is affecting your business.
Spark innovative thinking.Participate in active dialogues around Directorship 2020™—NACD’s new initiative—to explore how and why the boardroom will change over the next several years and what you as a director need to know to keep pace. Gain exclusive insights gleaned from thought leaders and directors around the country in a report from our Directorship 2020 regional events.
Build your network. Exchange ideas with nearly 800 directors from around the world, including those from Akamai Technologies, Ford, JetBlue, JPMorgan Chase, and Union Pacific, to name a few.
Tailor your experience.There’s something for everyone. Join special breakouts for general counsels, private company directors, small-cap directors, and nonprofits organizations. With nearly 50 sessions, choose from unmatched session selection to meet your own boardroom needs and interests.
In my opinion, NACD’s Board Leadership Conference is not only a great value, but an experience every corporate director should take part in.
I look forward to seeing you this October in Washington, D.C. Register here.